Remaining a Remainer

Up for discussion at a recent meeting of my local pro-European group in Stratford-upon -Avon, was an item entitled “do we give up on Brexit?” It was prompted by the eclipse of Brexit in the public consciousness by the coronavirus, the collapse of hopes that we might still, somehow, remain in the EU, and the turnaround among some pro-European groups to support the idea of leaving the EU.

Given this situation, what should Remainers do? Should they lie low, at least for the time being, or should we “take up arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?” I argue here that the latter course is the right one.

Swimming with the tide – the comfortable option

So far as most of the public is concerned Brexit has now been “done”, in Boris Johnson’s phrase. Many former Remainers, insofar as they think of it at all, feel they must make the best of it. A few diehards may see it as it really is; a national folly and an act of self harm. But most shrug their shoulders and bow to the inevitable. They find it far more comfortable to swim with the tide.

Even pro-European groups such as Best for Britain have found their principles to be flexible. Their mission statement states “We advocate for a Brexit that secures our future”. They are not alone: other organisations like the Eurocafe are either aiming for “a better Brexit” or steering clear of the subject altogether: any praise of the EU is now taboo.

One cannot blame these groups for taking the easier option, no doubt persuading themselves that they are being “realistic”. But I think it was Tony Benn who said “only dead fish swim with the tide”. Possibly Labour supporters should remember that.

Rejoining the EU

Some argue that the Brexit debate is over and old battles should not be re-fought. To advocate rejoining, they say, would invite accusations of undermining the Government’s negotiating hand. In other words, they fear being thought disloyal and are reluctant to defend EU membership.

Brendan Donnelly of the Federal Trust, a popular speaker here in Stratford, has pointed out that such timidity, self-doubt and diffidence, such deference to Euroscepticism and half hearted, apologetic support for the ideals and values of the EU, have been the Remain movement’s Achilles’ heel from the beginning. Indeed had Britain been more committed to the European Project from the start, instead of searching for every opt-out and concession it could find, Brexit would probably never have happened.

If support for leaving the EU was a serious mistake on 23 June 2016, then it remains one now. As the political scholar Andrew Blick says, “those who judge Brexit harmful have a duty to continue to openly disagree with it, rather than claiming to be reconciled with it (and probably convincing few in the process)”.

It was Emmanuel Macron who before his rise to power pointed out that the EU must be supported with a passion and aggression equivalent to the nationalists, if it is to survive. So perhaps some of us should be arguing for full blooded membership, being part of the Shengen free movement zone and adopting the Euro. Why not? With a radical pro-European wing matching the extreme Brexiteers on the other side, most Remainers will seem moderate by comparison, and more likely to achieve their modest ends.

The best strategy is clear, unashamed, enthusiastic support for rejoining. Having learned from our mistakes, we can be more effective Europeans in the future. We can lead Europe again, and do it better than before. Such sentiment will appeal to many Brexiteers, who to give them their due, want to see Britannia regaining its old glory. And it won’t do that by floating around in the mid-Atlantic, at the beck and call of Trump and Putin. It needs to be standing tall at the head of a powerful alliance of 28 nations, some of the most civilised and cultured in the world, that we have helped to forge and which we can take forward to new achievements.

* John King is a retired doctor and Remain campaigner.

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  • International cooperation from within what is now the European Union is in our aims and objects. I would put the chances of anyone getting a two thirds majority at conference to change that as approximately nil. If any member wants to try, as is their democratic right, I will be there arguing passionately that they are misguided. The EU stands for values that are our values, which need us championing them as they come increasingly under threat. EU membership is in the national interest as well. That is what I believe and so do many fellow-members of the party, millions of Brits outside the party and informed observers across the world. Remainers were defeated, dragged out of the EU by a process based on misinformation and deceit. Fraud unravels all, as Lord Denning said. We do not have to accept that defeat, and I for one do not accept it. I agree with you that we should be loud and clear in our support for rejoining.

  • John Marriott 10th May '20 - 9:46am

    John King says; “We can lead Europe again”. Now that’s the kind of ‘throw away” line that got us to where we are. Why SHOULD we want to lead? Indeed, what gives us the right to EXPECT to lead? The days of Rule Britannia are long gone and surely the EU was supposed to be a partnership of equals. All empires have their day and then fade away. The sooner we discard the cloak of exceptionalism and wake up to the reality of our position in the world today the better. If leaving the EU, which is hardly a paradise at present anyway, will get us to stand on our own two feet – and, goodness me, it won’t be easy – let’s use the resilience our nations have recently shown finally to make our way in the world.

  • I will spend the rest of my life bitterly regretting the UKs sad decision to leave the EU, I think the coming months and years will prove what a terrible mistake it was especially with aftermath of the present crisis to deal with. I hope the Lib Dems stand firm on their European heritage.

  • Frank Colson 10th May '20 - 12:50pm

    Colleagues are correct that formally ‘Remain’ is dead. Tactically we have no choice but to stand pat while the current lot work through the logic of their commitment to preserve the ‘absolute sovereignty’ of a small post industrial state in NW Europe. To observe that this strategy has been articulated by the Tories since at least 1696 – when they wanted to keep the seas open to commerce, not concerned to keep continental markets open to English products, and were oblivious to the spread of absolutism across Europe. James II’s plot to assassinate William III failed then: his successors will fail also because England remains a trading nation (since 1922 now in services and goods) : and that trade flows through London and its hinterland across the Continent – and has done since the Black Death. It will be as counterpart of Wuhan and the NE North America – part of three hubs of global trade and enterprise. So the operation of these sinews of commerce will imply that the UK will remain deeply integrated into the EU in millions, if not trillions of transactions, daily if not hourly. These transactions will be governed by legislation ultimately agreed by Brussels, which has already captured regulatory hegemony. The question of governance is de facto unchanged. Our task is always explain, always educate and always inform: never despair : to always recall that the tectonic plates of global commerce will continue the heavy lifting by themselves – and to emphasise that the EU connections of small, medium and large businesses will revive local towns and cities here as elsewhere through their intimate connections with their Continental hinterlands: thus to reshape the role of Westminster’s institutions for the 21st century. (I am a historian of Brazil – where tectonic plates play their roles – even in these confusing times).

  • Paul Staines 10th May '20 - 5:02pm

    This plan should move your polling from 7% to below 3%.

  • Paul Barker 10th May '20 - 6:37pm

    I really dont see any controversy in this, The EU is in our DNA, most Voters will assume that rejoining is our policy anyway & those that could be put off by that werent thinking about Voting for us anyway.
    If it needs saying then lets say it again, we will apply to Rejoin at the first opportunity. Whether our application will be accepted is another story.

  • Paul S: so you think we should abandon our principles and say whatever it takes to get votes? Or that a volte face on the EU would get us votes (rather than leaving us looking like opportunists)?
    History will show we were right to opposed Brexit. Just as history showed we were right to oppose the Iraq War (also a vote-loser initially).
    The present shower in power have shown just how useless Britain is ‘going it alone’ -and is anyone still looking with joy at China or the USA for ‘great’ trade deals?
    Absolutely we should champion rejoining.

  • Joining the EU will mean joining Shengen and making a greatly increased budget contribution. It will also mean joining the Eurozone. I look forward to hearing the enthusiasm for that.

  • Andrew Tampion 10th May '20 - 10:09pm

    Jo Hayes “International cooperation from within what is now the European Union is in our aims and objects.”
    If you are referring to the Preamble to the Federal Constitution then I don’t read it in that way. There is a reference to the EU but which says: “Within the European Community we affirm the values of federalism and integration and work for unity based on these principles.” No reference to working for International Cooperation only within the EU. Similarly the reference to freedom of movement of “ideas, people, goods ans services” makes no reference to the EU or only working towards these aims through the EU.
    Also the Preamble contains tthe following statement: “We believe that sovereignty rests with the people and that authority in a democracy derives from the people. We therefore acknowledge their right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs and commit ourselves to the promotion of a democratic federal framework within which as much power as feasible is exercised by the nations and regions of the United Kingdom.” So you can argue for EU membership but you should also accept, as Paddy Ashdown did on Referendum night, that if the British people exercise their right to determine that they do not wish to be part of the EU through a referendum then we as a Party should respect that.
    If in a few years time a suitable opportunity to promote Rejoin arises then by all means go for it. However I think it would be better to await the outcome of the negotiations and to see how the UK economy performs, particularly relative to the Eurozone.

  • Joining Shengen and making an increased budget contribution may be seen as a negative, but that’s only in the context of the good deal that we had previously, if we rejoin it will be as an equal with the other EU nations, not at a disadvantage to them, albeit not with our previous advantaged position.

    What we haven’t seen and experienced yet though is just how bad a situation we’re going to be in from January 2021. The maintenance of trade between the UK and EU will be crucial in setting public sentiment about the success of Brexit. The government current course of action is likely to result in problems across the Channel and particularly across the NI-Republic border, the impact of these will be critical.
    Given the likely problems, many of which will be permanent like the loss of industries reliant on tariff free EU supply chains, “Rejoin to Reset” may be turn out to be not so difficult to sell to the British voter.

  • Andrew Tampion, I think you confuse “the people” with a narrow majority of the minority of people who voted in a flawed, fraudulent, non-binding referendum nearly four years ago. British people know more now, and it’s scandalous and tragic that there was no People’s Vote on the options before we were dragged unwillingly out of the EU.
    You suggest I said something I didn’t say. The Lib Dems don’t *only* work within the EU for international cooperation but also within ALDE which includes countries outside the EU, Liberal International which is a worldwide organisation, and other international bodies which share similar aims and objectives.
    I don’t recognise your position, which appears to be straightforward British nationalism, as a Lib Dem one. The Lib Dems commit to setting aside national sovereignty when necessary, and although we are no longer in the EU, we affirm the values of federalism and integration and work for unity based on these principles. Federalism involves the idea that decisions should be taken at the nearest practicable level to those affected by them, with the central authority playing a residual role. This is subsidiarity. If the EU didn’t exist we would strive to invent something very like it.

  • The only way we’re going to rejoin the EU in the next decade is if as seems likely we become a junk state, irrelevant and living from hand to mouth. Then it will seem as with the countries of Eastern Europe as our only salvation.

  • I wouldn’t bet on the EU surviving for another decade.

    Eurozone, anyone?

  • @Jo Hayes, – The EU invented the term, “subsidiarity”, to give the impression of democracy. It was supposed to mean that decisions best taken at the local level should remain at there. The EU then decided that every competence in which the EU had an interest would become “shared” but in the event that there was any conflict, then the EU would have supremacy.

    Sport and health are the only competences with partial local control. After all, the EU control employment, medication, clinical protocols, implants, medical equipment, and almost every practical aspect of health care. After the current crisis and EU embarrassment, that will soon change.

    I’m afraid that subsidiarity is a fantasy. EU control is the reality.

  • Andrew Tampion 12th May '20 - 7:10am

    Jo Hayes. First of all I am delighted that you like me are prepared to debate your views without hiding behind a pseudonym.
    As far as the referendum is concerned if you would set out ehy you think it was flawed and fraudulent then I will do my best to refute your arguments. But as far as the non binding point is concerned. Following the referendum Parliament passed the motion permitting the Government to issue the Artice 50 letter and subsequently passed various Acts to give effect to the Referendum so i do not understand what point you are making.
    You may have been dragged “unwillingly out of the EU” but there is nothing to indicate that the country as a whole was dragged out of the EU or that it was unwilling to leave.
    If I have misunderstood your position on international cooperation then I am happy to be corrected.
    However I suggest that you are falling into the same error when you suggest that my views are “straightforward British nationalism” or are in some way not a Liberal Democrat one. I accept that the Party’s position is pro EU: but I voted Remain myself. Where we differ is that I agree with Paddy Ashdown when he said “I will forgive no one who does not respect the sovereign voice of the British people once it has spoken, whether it is a majority of one per cent or 20 per cent.” Are you suggesting that Paddy was a straightforward British nationalist?

  • Arnold Kiel 13th May '20 - 7:24am

    All arguments for membership and against Brexit remain valid. The arguments for conceding can only be tactical, but not of substance. But the situation is worse now. We will know in a month whether this Government really wants no deal; it currently looks that way.

    As all UK-based factories that are part of pan-European supply-chains are currently idle, not only for health- but also for demand- and supply-reasons, reopening them in a low demand and high barrier scenario is increasingly pointless. The global automotive industry, for example, is currently rethinking its future, and “Brexit uncertainty” might soon be over just at a moment in time when the UK capacity is not needed. At the same time, cash-flows are low, and the need to invest at home is high.

    With a UK unwilling to provide a smooth transition to a collaborative new settlement, a similar logic applies to financial- and other services, where London has real strengths: Overall demand is slow, the continent has lots of idle capacity, and the pressure on Governments to direct exploding deficits to local employment will be high.

    Similar arguments can be made with respect to the US and China, the UK’s supposed (and conflicting) alternatives to European integration.

    The UK’s notorious trade deficit, together with a shortage of FDI is likely to trigger further GBP devaluation and inflation. This and the accompanying job losses will further depress consumer spending.

    The Brexit-discussion will continue against a backdrop of a rather unequal post-corona recovery-race. I don’t think the Tories will succeed in sticking the coming miserable 4 years to the virus and demonstrating that Brexit was a success. LibDems should consistently remain on the right side of history.

  • Peter Martin 13th May '20 - 7:58am

    @ Arnold Kiel,

    “The UK’s notorious trade deficit……is likely to trigger further GBP devaluation and inflation. ”

    When the pound first floated, in the 70s, the consensus of opinion was that it would spell the end of worries about the trade imbalance. The currency would settle at a value at which exports equalled imports. This is the simple text book theory. It’s never been like that, for the simple reason that most countries choose to control their currency value, ie artificially depress it, to give their exporters some international advantage.

    Consequently, most countries who did allow their currencies to genuinely float, ie ourselves, the USA, Canada, Australia, started to run deficits. If someone is running a surplus in trade, someone else has, penny for penny to run a deficit. A deficit in trade then nearly always translates into a Govt budget deficit too. The govt has to replace the money spent overseas to keep the economy ticking over.

    Just quite why otherwise intelligent German people can’t quite grasp this is a mystery. Its not difficult. But they somehow think that everyone should be like them and be in surplus. The results are quite clear in the mess that is known as the eurozone. Hundreds of billions will be required to keep Italy and Spain afloat. Germany, the Netherlands, Austria are reluctant to lend it out because they know it won’t be repaid. It can’t be repaid until the export junkies of the EU starts to run a “notorious trade deficit” too.

    But it’s a matter of National pride for many countries that this will never happen. So the eurozone is condemned to limp along under a dysfunctional German imposed system. Hopefully it won’t survive the Covid-19 crisis and we can all start again to construct a new Europe that actually might work a little better.

  • @ Peter Martin

    I did not say the UK should have a trade surplus; it evidently cannot. But it needs a capital account surplus to balance its trade deficit. That will become a problem, so sterling will have to devalue further, and more than “most countries” (anyhow logically impossible).

    In that regard, the UK has an advantage compared to structurally similar EZ-countries. But devaluation will not sustain an industrial role in the EU common market, while Italy’s and Spain’s are unaffected by their deficits (Italy only budget, not trade).

    The referendum-to-corona EZ vs. UK economic (and currency) race had a clear winner. We will soon see how the post-corona scenario plays out.

  • Peter Martin 13th May '20 - 10:50am

    @ Arnold Kiel,

    ” ……it (the UK) needs a capital account surplus to balance its trade deficit.”

    Yes that’s true. It’s also true that Germany needs a capital account deficit to balance its trade surplus. In other words we have lots of German workers working really hard to produce a trade surplus and German bankers are busying themselves lending it all out again to countries who can’t possibly ever repay.

    I think the penny might finally be dropping in Germany on this! But if the decision of the constitutional court is upheld re the involvement of the Bundesbank in this, aka EU QE, then it is curtains for the euro.

  • @ Peter Martin

    as always, we are way off topic.

    Don’t worry: German workers don’t work any harder than British ones, just more productively. And German bankers don’t lend money to countries, but to individuals and companies. The QE-question will be amicably resolved, and you will forever wait for “curtains for the euro”.

  • Peter Martin 13th May '20 - 11:13pm

    @ Arnold,

    I’m not sure exactly what is the topic that we are “way off”. John King wrote:

    “We can lead Europe again, and do it better than before.”

    This seems to be “way off” reality. We’ve always hung around, reluctantly, on the periphery, we’ve never lead, and we’ve never sought that role. Now that we’ve actually left the chances of that changing in the foreseeable future look to be zilch.

    It’s an interesting point you raised about capital accounts being the mirror image of current accounts. It means Germany had a capital account deficit of some 250 billion euros in 2019. Then there would have been a similar number in 2018 and for many years previously a similar amount too.

    This means in the last 5 or 6 years you’ve exported a trillion euros or so of capital. That’s an awful lot to lend out. You say Germany lends to individuals and companies. So did Icelandic banks before the GFC. It didn’t save them! German banks lost heavily too and it took some arm twisting by Angela Merkel to make Greek and Irish govts accept responsibility for bad loans by German banks to their private sectors.

    I’d be genuinely interested to know exactly where this latest trillion has gone! If I were a German taxpayer I’d be wanting to know why my taxes were so high at the same time the German economy was making so much money that it really didn’t have any better use for it than sending it abroad in very risky loans!

  • @Peter Martin – “Hopefully it won’t survive the Covid-19 crisis and we can all start again to construct a new Europe that actually might work a little better.”
    Unfortunately, the UK decided to leave and from the language and behaviour of its political representatives we’ve seen during this process, is unlikely to be invited by our continental neighbours, to be a partner in the construction of a new Europe…

    BTW “We can lead Europe again, and do it better than before.” – I agree this is way off reality.

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